Presence

I was twenty-three and newly engaged. My mother’s friends decided to host a bridal shower.


Dressed in an aqua linen skirt with a matching silk tank top, I was treated like a princess. We had finger sandwiches and drank sweetened iced tea garnished with lemons. A few of my high school and college friends joined us but the majority of ladies were my other “mothers,” those who watched me grow, make mistakes, graduate, and find love. They were still Mrs. Whoever, but I always knew I could call on any one of them and they’d be there to pick up whatever pieces were toppled to the floor during an emergency.

The April afternoon sent fractures of light through the tall pines that surrounded the dining hall where I had spent my summers as a counselor. The same tables and chairs I ate on years earlier, lacquered and cleaned, now held our dainty lunch, surrounded by flowers and boxes and bows. It was a cherished place for me and special to be there surrounded by people I’d known most of my life.


“Alison, open your presents!” a voice sounded a call and small cheers erupted.


I smiled and someone began to put 30 chairs in a semi-circle while everyone else slowly took their place.


“Alison, sit in the middle so we can all watch.”


I nodded and moved my chair next to a giant pile of gifts. I slowly pulled the paper from one while all eyes focused on what I was about to do: Unwrap my present and hold it up for all to see. While women hooped and hollered, in their politest, indoor voices, a hush returned as I pulled another one. There was a mummer, “That’s mine.”


My cheeks began to flush with the recognition that the attention of everyone was solely on my reaction to the gift. What if I didn’t like it? Would I disappoint someone? Would they be mad at me? Would they be mad at my mother?


These might be irrational thoughts, but they were my thoughts, nonetheless.


Fully aware that my hands started to tremble as I pulled the end of a velvet bow, the thing that has always haunted me happened. Tears began to hover on my lower lids. I smiled harder, hoping to stave them off. The thought of crying mortified me, which, of course, made me want to cry more. Embarrassed, I looked down to see my blue skirt absorb the first droplet, followed by another.


I opened the gift with a sniffle and false grin and pulled a box from the table, as my embarrassment grew. More tears, more awkwardness, more embarrassment, a vicious cycle began.


Softly, someone pulled their chair next to mine. Placing her hand gently on my shoulders she silently sat next to me and handed me a package. She never said a word, but intuitively knew to stay, calmly handing me gifts, as I dried my cheeks with the back of my hand.


My countenance returned to normal and I showed my appreciation to what my “other” mothers had given me. More importantly, however, was the knowledge that someone gave me something that money can’t buy. I don’t recall any of the items wrapped in paper and bows. But I do know that I was given an example of how to be supportive and kind. Life is filled with things of all shapes and sizes. I remember my bridal shower not because of the tangible articles picked from a registry. No, that day, I was given a memory that showered me with compassion when I needed it. As simple and almost silly as it was, it is one of the best memories of all.

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